Monday 4 January 2010

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (38/50) – His Ascension to Heaven: Out of This World?

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the thirty-eighth of the fifty emails.

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Luke 24:50-53

Christ’s ascension sometimes gets bundled with his resurrection rather than treated as an event in its own right. In fact, as the rhythm of the church’s calendar reminds us, they were separated by forty days. That rhythm, itself informed by the biblical story, enables us to see things as they really are – from God’s perspective – with Jesus’ ascension opening up a new era in the history of his dealings with the world and his people in the world.

At the very least, it means Jesus is exalted to the right hand of God, as Peter explains (Acts 2:33-36; 5:31), showing he is less interested in the ‘up-down’ mechanics of the event than he is with the status of his Lord – the ascension confirming him as the king, the fulfilment of God’s promises to David.

Beyond this, lose the ascension and we lose the heavenly ministry of Jesus as our High Priest, his very presence with God providing intercession on our behalf, his finished work requiring no repetition or extension of any kind. Lose the ascension and we risk losing the comfort of hope – that one day our weak bodies will be like his glorious body, that the same Jesus who ascended will return as judge and king. And as a man too – for he did not slip off his humanity to get on with the task of being the exalted Son of God, but has taken it into the very presence of God, wedding us to him forever, reminding us once again of God’s commitment to restore his creation.

Meanwhile, the ascension does not mark the end of his work on earth, but the continuation of it through the church – a mission which can be carried out with confidence because of the position our Master now occupies, with all places subject to his rule and all people subject to his oversight – including the places we inhabit and the people we encounter, even today.

As the ascended Lord, he lays claim not just to the church but to all realms of life. And his heavenly location redraws how we think about our ‘location’, how we live in our earthly spaces given the one from whom we take our bearing, our lives oriented around the reality of the risen and ascended Christ, his heavenly lordship investing today’s even apparently menial tasks with eternal significance.

For further reflection and action:

1. Read and reflect on some of the passages in Hebrews which describe Jesus’ ascension and ministry as the Great High Priest – 1:3; 2:9; 4:14-16; 6:19-20; 7:23-8:2; 10:19-25; 12:2.

2. An old adage suggests that some Christians can be too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use. In keeping with our reflections on Christ’s ascension, how far is it important for us to be heavenly minded precisely to be of earthly use?

3. Try to chat with a fellow Christian this week about the ongoing significance of the ascension for our lives as disciples of Christ.

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